Judge Not…?

It’s interesting to see the Pagan community grow these days. We’re still young, as a faith – yes, I know about the ‘Old Religion’, but contemporary Paganism is still very much finding its place in the 21st century. This isn’t an idealized Summerisle-style community either, but rooted in the lives that we lead, here and now, in city and country, through good and bad.

And so we have to deal with difficulties.

I’ve spoken before of personal issues, the challenges of balancing the hard times and the good in life, as well as the inspiration which can come from darkness. But there are various aspects of life which we as a society still find so hard to deal with that we are happier to ignore them. Death is one such issue (although Kristoffer Hughes is writing about that well enough). Myself and others are looking at mental illness and isolation.

Today I’m pondering the issue of Judgement.

The media has been quick to wield the Stick of Truth (ahem) in the past, castigating the ‘evil Pagans’, weirdos who gather together in their ‘occult rites’. Many of us know how frustrating this is, to read about and to be represented in such a ludicrous and disrespectful way. The idea of a Pagan ‘caste’ system has always scared me – I’ve spoken before of idolizing and the creation of celebrity ‘gurus’, but this is the opposite side of that dangerous coin.

Because now in my work, I’m finding myself meeting and getting to know some of those ‘evil Pagans’. Those whom even the wider Pagan community seems happy to ostracize. Sometimes I’m ashamed of my community, as they act in no better manner than those torch-wielding mob-rousers that they profess to hate when on the receiving end. Love, light and peace? Not for all, it seems.

Sometimes issues can seem black and white. With its soundbite-nature, the media is content to let it be so. But life isn’t that clear-cut. We know that, right?

I’ve seen a Pagan man weep about how he was represented in the papers, with provably false words printed that were later retracted – but the lies were on the front page, and the apology hidden inside. Can you guess which ones his friends, those who knew him better than any journalist, believed?

I’ve seen repentance and apology, the quest for redemption. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the punishment – far greater than any Judge can bestow – of having to live with that for the rest of their days. Justified, perhaps? 

A movie summed it up well for me this week, actually: 

‘Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.’ 

(from ‘X-Man, Days of Future Past’)

I’m not saying that Pagans never do wrong. We all stumble; it’s the degree of stumbling, and the consequences, which need to be judged on their own individual cases. But we need to unite as a community, with maturity, honesty and bravery, to acknowledge that Bad Things Happen. What are we then to do about it? 

As Pagans, we find ourselves often tribal, in our own geographical areas of moods and social groups. That’s fine. The difficulty comes when someone strays from that, and is effectively ‘cast out’ from that tribe. 

I’m seeing calls today to ‘cast out’ someone from Paganism as a whole, for crimes committed. I’m shocked and saddened by this, because to me, it’s the mob mentality that’s so hateful to us in other circumstances. Not to mention a ludicrous idea – nobody has the right (or ability) to take another’s spirituality, and I would protest loudly if anyone tried. Perhaps this blog is that protest. I’m writing it in the hope that my words are read and understood, not knee-jerked and sound-bited. But I cannot stay silent, not today – that makes me complicit with that (scared, angry) mob, in my mind.

Yes, crimes are terrible, I’m not denying that. I absolutely cannot understand the mentality of some folk I meet, particularly those who do not (yet?) acknowledge their guilt  – but even though I can feel sick or scared, I still have to minister to them. I’ve chosen that path, and so I do my best. Not everyone can, and I know that too. It’s bloody hard. But so I raise my voice, because they are Pagans too. And human beings. Like it or not, we have commonality.

I’m suggesting that as Pagans, we need to act as an adult community, as a responsible tribe. We support those injured by the crimes, of course, but also acknowledge that sadly, such things will inevitably happen, and as a group we must deal with that, for all concerned. 

We’re human. Everyone has their issues, and some are expressed in ways so deeply socially unacceptable that it feels natural to kick out in response. The law of the land seems insufficient sometimes, and calls for death are easy to make on social media. But again, I’ve met those people whose heads are being demanded, spoken to them and looked into their eyes. They’re not the Devil (remember, he doesn’t exist in Paganism) – in fact, most are so confused, they cannot recognise themselves in those headlines, so sensational are the words.

As Pagans, it is part of our spiritual path that we are all responsible for our actions. The challenges there are part of our journey. So the wrongdoer must be responsible – and accept that he may have lost much of his life as a result. But is he then not allowed the opportunity of redemption? Is his community reduced to just me (a scary thought, I don’t mind admitting)? Or can we try to help him, should he ever return to those who called him friend?

A wise (and very realistic) Prison Officer once told me: ‘We can’t judge. The Judge did that. We just have to be there for them now.’ 

It’s not easy, I know that. I don’t know if we’ll ever find a solution. But as other faiths pray for those in pain, those lost and suffering, so I pray for those Pagans who’ve stumbled and fallen. Because if they hadn’t, I would possibly have once called them Friend.

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14 Comments »

  1. Huge and important stuff here.

  2. arkadyrose said

    I don’t know who it is you’re talking about, but I think you’re committing several geek social fallacies here (http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html). There are some people so toxic that they’ve used up any second, third or fourth chances people might have been willing to give them, but you’re saying that the wrongdoer’s chance of redemption outweighs the rights of the people they’ve wronged and the vulnerable people they might yet prey on to be kept safe from the wrongdoer. I’ve seen this happen time and time and time again on various con scenes in the sci-fi community. The people concerned can be incredibly charming and charismatic to anyone they think is sympathetic, and of *course* they act bewildered and “cannot fathom” why they’ve been ostracised – but cutting someone off from a community for the sake of the community is never something done lightly. When defending the wrongdoer, in many cases you may well be siding with an abuser – which, in the eyes of many, will make you almost as bad as them, because you’re ignoring the people saying “this person hurt us”. You’re saying their pain and hurt matters less to you than this person’s chance for “redemption”.

    • druidcat said

      Thanks for this, Arkady – but I actually did anticipate such thoughts being posed to me!

      I’m not saying that, not at all. I see victims as well as victimisers, and would never denigrate anyone’s pain or experience.

      I’m saying that it’s easy to judge without the full story, to place blame and have ‘good/evil’ to justify that judgement. To me, that’s cowardly. It’s far harder to look deeper, to challenge the actions of the person but also the community that let it happen, that caused the fear preventing the victim speaking out… so many factors. But we can change those, if we acknowledge them.

      Ideally, I’d love for bad things to never happen in the Pagan community, but that’s pretty unrealistic. I’m hoping to inspire folk to see truths behind over-simplistic assumptions, to prevent such things going so far in future and so save and assist future victims (and victimisers).

      I hope that my words are understood, as it is a very charged topic. But I do feel that many of us are bigger and smarter than the internet troll-types.

    • druidcat said

      By the way, the people I’m speaking of are criminals in the ‘real world’ sense – I’m a Prison Chaplain. So yes, they are abusers, and murderers, and Very Bad People. Some may well be beyond redemption (as I mention, I find them almost impossible to understand). But some are not.

  3. Cavall said

    When something has been traced back to a member of the Pagan community, and prosecution occurs, you can bet the comments underneath will have several comments of ‘Well, clearly that individual wasn’t really a Pagan’, and that is what angers me in all of this.

    As a community, we need to recognise that any number of people exist, those who do good or ill, and yes, they may do something we cannot agree with, but they can still be Pagan, and a part of the collective we are building, but to shut them out is childish, it says that we cannot handle the reality of the world being a less than ‘light’ place.

    We can’t just say ‘No, those sort of people don’t exist in Paganism’, as it stops us being aware next time something bad happens, we need to watch as anyone else, so we can step in before it’s too late, pro active rather than reactive.

    • You make a brilliant point. In most cases we need to remember that a deed needs to be separated from a person’s paganism. A person’s faith isn’t always everything they are but despite everything else in their lives it’s still part of who they are. You can’t say that a murderer was never a pagan – just the same way you can’t say they were a murderer because they were a pagan.

      R

  4. Linda said

    As a woman who is new to druidry yet a long time penpal to almost a dozen prisoners, I agree with you.
    People make mistakes. Some people make really big mistakes that cost someone else their lives. Yes, they should be punished for that (not with the death penalty, but that’s another story), but that doesn’t mean they’re no longer human. They are. They still have the ability to love, to cry, to be happy or angry.
    They’re still people and should be treated that way.

    (Not saying there aren’t bad people, because there are, but not everyone in prison is 100% bad)

  5. Tim said

    There are many things to think about, in the post and in the comments. My perspective is as a counsellor who has dealt with some pretty nasty stuff. I’m also only starting in exploring my faith.

    Firstly, these people, whoever they are, identify as pagan. That means that they’re pagan. Doesn’t mean that they’re good pagans, or good people. But that is who they are.

    The thing with any person, is that they’re never 100% pure anything. No one is 100% pure good. No one is 100% pure evil. People do make really bad choices, but sometimes those choices are limited. You can’t choose what you can’t see, and for some people their vision is restricted.

    Personally, I do not judge the people that I work with. I don’t know their vision, I don’t know their choices. I can say to myself “I would choose differently”, but… would I? If faced with the same situation, would I see far enough to choose differently? I don’t know that I would.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that I would want to be friends with these people, but they are still people.

  6. Claire said

    I think I know where this has stemmed from. And as someone who has experienced abuse, it is a hard one for me to fathom. My initial reaction if I thought someone was supporting the abuser would be outrage and hurt (‘How dare they be allowed any help after what they put me through!’).

    But that’s the thoughts of the angry and betrayed part of my brain.

    The pagan-side of me and thinking about it further – and because of this post – makes me wonder that maybe it should be that the Bad Men have a support network around them afterwards.

    They need that network to admit their wrongdoings, make amends and lead better lives (pagan or otherwise). There may be issues in their own past that lead to the way they act now that need to be addressed.

    Otherwise, society and their own minds pigeon-hole them. And they become even more entwined into the dark side of life – possibly leading to more crimes being committed and a never-ending cycle.

    I say none of this lightheartedly. And it doesn’t belittle anyone else’s suffering.

    Could I forgive if my abuser changed his life around and asked forgiveness? Who knows.

    But to rise above it all, shouldn’t I/we allow those a change to redeem themselves?

    Especially when being pagan to me is living the best way I can, without wishing harm on others and keeping my world positive.

    Thank you for the thoughts, Cat.

    • druidcat said

      Thank you, Claire – I’m deeply honoured by your reply and your candour. This shows tremendous strength, of heart and soul. Thank you for sharing x

  7. This is beautiful. Thank you. The way you work so hard to see the ‘other side’ of the story is inspiring to me.

  8. crychydd said

    I am in broad sympathy with the views you express here. Digging beneath I find myself considering what would constitute a pagan view of forgiveness? Christianity has this programmed into its theology but what would be the basis of a pagan argument for it? You have begun to explore one here of course but if the starting point is to acknowledge responsibility for deeds done, the next step seems to be deeds (which may initially only be words) that show what else is possible.

    For me paganism is a religion of experience rather than belief, so giving people a way of experiencing community with others ( the gods, friends, adversaries ….) and of performing deeds which enact that community would be the way forward. So I’m already wondering if ‘forgiveness’ is a viable word? I’m not sure we can do that on behalf of our gods as the Christians claim to do. And personal forgiveness can only come from victims.

    • druidcat said

      Agreed! ‘Forgiveness’ I find difficult as a term, especially when it’s not mine to give. But I can give connection and a reminder of shared community – which may well count for more, as well as aiding healing and work towards ownership/responsibility moving forward. Not easy, but each case requires both intellectual thought and human emotion to assist wider understanding.

  9. […] conscious of how Cat Treadwell has been posting about her chaplaincy work, and not giving up on people, and I admire her courage […]

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